Virginia District Court Affirms Magistrate Decision on Admissibility of Naval Expert Testimony

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, April 27, 2020

Plaintiffs Herbert H. Mullinex and Patricia E. Mullinex alleged that Mr. Mullinex was exposed to asbestos from working with sheet gaskets and valve and pump packing manufactured by John Crane, Inc. during his service in the U.S. Navy from 1969 to 1978. John Crane, as part of its defense, intended to rely on the opinion of retired Rear Admiral David P. Sargent, Jr., in an attempt to refute some of Mr. Mullinex’s allegations regarding Navy contractors and the working conditions of Navy ships during the time period at issue. The plaintiffs filed a motion in limine to limit or exclude Admiral Sargent’s testimony at trial, and the Magistrate Judge entered an order granting the motion in part, and denying the motion in part. The Magistrate Judge’s order permitted Admiral Sargent to testify regarding (1) the interaction between the Manufacturing Chemists Associations’ Manual L-1, the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, and the National Fire Protection Association Standards, and various Navy packaging specifications; (2) the potential presence of asbestos thermal insulation on Mr. Mullinex’s ships; (3) gasket and packing specifications; and (4) his opinion that certain Military Standards were solely packaging standards.

The plaintiffs objected to the ruling. In considering the objections, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, held that the Magistrate Judge had meticulously addressed each of the plaintiffs’ contentions regarding the qualifications of Admiral Sargent, and the Magistrate Judge’s conclusions were well justified by the record. The court further held that Admiral Sargent had provided sufficient foundation to show that his conclusions were reliable, consistent with Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and the Daubert standard, noting the plaintiffs could cross-examine Admiral Sargent on his conclusions. Additionally, the court found that “[a]s a general matter, [Admiral] Sargent was qualified to offer his opinion about the potential presence of asbestos-containing thermal pipe insulation and Mr. Mullinex’s proximity to same based on his well-documented experience,” and the Magistrate Judge had appropriately cabined the scope of his testimony in two ways: “(1) the testimony will be limited to the extent to which it does not consider all appropriate factors of Mr. Mullinex’s exposure; and (2) the testimony may not include an opinion regarding Mr. Mullinex’s actual asbestos exposure, given his lack of personal knowledge.” The court found nothing in the Magistrate Judge’s order that was clearly erroneous or contrary to the law, and therefore affirmed the order.

Read the case decision here.